So now you’re ready to start designing the story within your course. You’re back at your desk and sifting through content and notes. How do you know which details are important to include to create the best story experience?

stick figure thinking of elearning stories

A common fiction-writing technique is to only introduce story characters who add value to the story, characters who have a clear purpose and move the story forward.

We can think of story details in the same way. It’s best to only add details and descriptions that somehow move the learner into deeper emotional and sensory engagement with the content. With limited real estate and time, everything you add must have a purpose.

The primary purpose is to enhance learner engagement and retention. And as we discussed in Part 1, using details to develop emotional relatability and a rich sensory experience can greatly contribute to engagement. In general, when choosing which details to use, you can determine whether this detail:

  • Helps a learner emotionally relate to the character(s) in the story (i.e., creates empathy or familiarity), and/or
  • Provides the learner with a sensory experience of the story environment.

And remember that you’re likely building out the story in three specific and integrated media: audio, visuals, and text.

It’s important to consider how detail use across media works holistically to create a story experience.

Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be! But it does require some forethought. Which is why we’ve developed a handful of guiding questions to help you determine which details to use and where.

1. Do the visual details create sensory context and emotional relatability?

  • Can details in visual graphics help develop the story’s atmosphere, mood, or characters’ personality quirks?
  • Is a symbolic or a literal image best for engaging emotion and sensory experience? And is a photo or line drawing more appropriate?

green stick figure faces with one purple face

Symbolic or literal? What type of image would you choose to evoke a character’s experience of “depressed”? 

stick drawing of drooping plant

There’s no right or wrong answer! The graphics you choose depend on the content, the characters in your stories, and the resources available. Literal and symbolic imagery have equal emotional power at different times. Keep in mind, though, that symbolic images tend to lack contextual details. You may need to include these details in the narration or onscreen text. 

2. Do the auditory details develop rich and relatable context and character personality?

  • Do you need to use audio at all? Will it hinder or enhance retention?
  • What voice talent is most appropriate to make characters relatable?
  • Do you need to include an extra pause, sigh, breath, or other narrative technique to make characters come alive?
  • Will ambient noise (e.g., closing door, ringing phone, etc.) create a richer sensory experience or add a positive element of tension to the story? Or will it be a distraction?
  • How can tone of voice and inflection add to the emotionality and believability of a character?
  • Is the narrative conversational enough? Does it reflect the nuances of the client’s organizational culture?
  • If you close your eyes and just listen to the audio in the course, does it transport you somewhere, even if not all the story “information” is in the narrative?

3. Do the details of onscreen text add to an understanding and relatability of the characters?

  • Are onscreen thought or text bubbles written in conversational dialogue?
  • Can you reduce the onscreen text even more – relying on the visual graphics to share the nuances of the story environment and content?
  • Can you hide or layer the onscreen text so that learners engage with additional story details in unique and discovery-based ways? This is a strategic way to add rich and simple description to a story without overwhelming the learner with too much overt onscreen detail. Feedback, popups, or linked job aids are other ways to embed necessary story details.

4. Do the details that you’ve used, truly capture the unique personality of the client culture?

  • Will learners recognize themselves and their coworkers in the characters’ personality traits, appearances, and language?
  • Will learners naturally relate to the story environment you’ve created?

Finally, like most things in life, less detail is usually more.


“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine St. de Exupery


The beauty of stories is that we all operate from them all the time, so learners subconsciously fill in some story gaps on their own.

Remember that making stories personal is both good for learning, and a responsibility we have as designers of custom learning experiences.


P.S. Need help designing courses that are custom-fit for your organization? We’re here to help.

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Director, Talent Management